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Donations to shelter near $18K

COVINGTON -- Donations to Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter total close to $18,000 following last week's announcement that the shelter was in danger of having utilities cut off.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston made a personal plea to citizens to contribute to help the shelter stay open, and set up a bank account at Newton Federal Bank locations throughout the county. Donations to that account were at $8,745 as of Tuesday at noon, Johnston said. Two members of the shelter's board of directors agreed to donate a total of $6,000 during a special called meeting last week to keep utilities on. The shelter also has a PayPal account accessible via its website, www.rainbowcommuniyctr.org.

The board will meet again on Oct. 17 to discuss a possible reorganization of operations. Johnston told board members at an Oct. 4 special called meeting that the shelter can't continue to operate as it is. The shelter was $5,320.38 in arrears on utilities. The bill was due in early September and the city extended the cut off date by several days to give the shelter time to raise funds. Johnston said someone needs to be brought in to handle the business side of the shelter -- accounting, grant writing -- and day-to-day operations, leaving working with shelter residents to Executive Director Clara Lett.

If shelter operations are handled properly, "I believe the money is going to flow in because the people of Newton County are very giving people," he said.

Consistent participation among the board's 11 members has been a problem, and it was agreed at last week's meeting that a more active and engaged board is needed.

In addition to being in arrears on utilities, the Covington Housing Authority reports that the shelter has not paid rent since February. The shelter owes $500 a month in rent; a rate that was reduced from $3,000 a month in 2011. According to the Housing Authority, the shelter owes nearly $70,000 in back rent dating back to 2009, though some shelter representatives dispute the terms of the initial lease agreement.